14 February 2007

Mayor Lifschitz goes to San Francisco

Rosario's mayor Miguel Lifschitz travelled to San Francisco, California, United States. Besides the exchange of ideas and vague promises of cooperation, San Francisco's mayor promised he'll work on making Rosario and San Francisco sister cities... whatever that means... as long as both he and Lifschitz are reelected this year (we have elections in September; San Francisco has them in November).

Trolebús Línea KIt turns out, also, that San Francisco's Secretary of Transport is a rosarino! Lifschitz had mentioned that he wanted to bring back the trolleybus to Rosario; there's one (the K line), operated by the municipal state-owned transport company, going east–west all across town, but that's just the last remains of a grid of electric trams that used to cover the city. The municipality wants the trolleybus to have a place in it, by restoring the M line, going north–south.

It's been years since Rosario's bus system has had increasing problems coping with a larger urban area and a larger population. Long ago the municipality planned a new system which would replace the many unconnected bus lines with a hierarchy of district-based lines, transfer lines between nearby areas of the city, and main lines that would cross the whole city. The system was discussed, debated, studied, reformed, and presented to the private companies; it failed to gather investments, then there came an economic crisis, then another, then it failed again... The last attempt succeeded, so we're waiting, sometime during 2007, for the buses to be reorganized. The trams would be an interesting addition to the mix.

The opportunity is unique. The city of Vancouver, Canada, is liquidating its fleet of old trams, which are nevertheless working fine, and it's vowed to donate them to Córdoba, Mendoza and Rosario — we're going to get 70 of them, provided we can pay for the shipping, which is minor compared to the cost of the units. We'll then need 15 million pesos to mount the infrastructure. The K line serves a lot of people and is remarkably quiet, so I hope the M line will be OK as well. What I'd like to see is a picture of Vancouver's trams (Wikimedia Commons has a picture of a TransLink trolley bus, but I doubt that's it).

Besides the tram, it seems Lifschitz liked San Francisco's touristic cable car. There was a project, once, to set up a railway along the coast of the Paraná so that passengers could watch the view. Again, it was one of those things easier said than done. With the city now decidedly going touristic and economically improving, the mayor is pondering the idea of a cable car in Rosario. That would be a major attraction. The municipality has worked hard to make the shoreline accessible and available; from the center northward you can stroll (or jog) along pedestrian paths by parks and beaches for some 7 km with almost no interruption, admiring the river and the islands in the east, and the skyline of the city in the west. A way to do the same for those not keen on walking, or to enjoy the view comfortably in the hottest times of day in the summer, or during rainy days, would be extremely welcome, and if not touristically expensive, also quite useful in itself.
Pathetic attempts at criticizing Lifschitz's administration routinely pop up in the walls of certain parts of the city. Lifschitz is a Socialist and a former official of the Binner administration, and though he's kept his low profile and a cautious distance from the campaign for the governorship, Binner and Lifschitz are linked in the popular sentiment, and the Peronist operators of Rafael Bielsa's campaign are taking advantage of that. "Lifschitz, enough with the travels, Rosario needs solutions", I read today in a wall — this, as governor Obeid is in Cuba presenting a book of his, admiring a replica of Che Guevara's home and sucking up to the Castros. Not that that's wrong in any sense; mayors and governors often travel abroad to showcase their lands and promote trade and cultural exchange. "Lifschitz = Bus fee raise", on a poster, too, with a picture of Binner on one side, explaining that the Socialists don't have a solution for the city's problems. (The Peronist leader in the city council made a public display of disapproval when the mayor was forced to raise the fee after the bus drivers got an outrageous salary raise. They also complained when the municipality rose the real estate tax to make upper-middle-class homes pay more than a few pesos. This is all useless since they can't block anything in the council — it's just for show.)

The Peronists have been unable to win in Rosario since 1983; since 1989 we've had Socialist mayors, and Lifschitz is practically sure to win this time again. The Peronist candidates over the years have all been ridiculous... low-level party cronies with a history of living off political favours, opportunists with no idea how to run a city, a foul-mouthed mediocre yellow journalist, the leader of a pharmacy chain suspected of supplying his business with stolen medicine... anyone, absolutely anyone who could bring even a single vote to the cause, under the legal fraud of the Ley de Lemas, tailor-made for the benefit of the pragmatic Justicialist Party. All of them put together, on three consecutive elections, could not come close to Binner or Lifschitz running alone. The city has terrible problems, but people aren't that stupid. So maybe next year, if mayor Newsom of San Francisco is still there, Rosario will have a new sister.

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